John 12:12-16 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
It was an exciting time in Jerusalem. Crowds were coming from all over the known world to be in the city for Passover. Little did they know that they were being gathered to witness the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Among the local people there was a sizable contingent that had been present when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. On the Christian calendar this day is referred to as “Palm Sunday” because the crowds gathered and spread branches from palm trees on the road along with their cloaks so that the donkey carrying Jesus would not touch the ground. They were shouting, “Hosanna”, and using the term, “the King of Israel”, as Jesus was coming into the city.
Jesus picked his time to enter the city and the way he entered the city. He had sent his disciples ahead of him to bring a donkey with its colt so he could ride on the unbroken colt. Jesus was constantly confusing the prophecy students by the things that he did. We are told that there was great expectation at that very time in Jerusalem that the Messiah was coming. However, they expected the Messiah to come on a white horse; raise an army and remove the Romans. They completely missed Zachariah’s vision of the King entering the city. When the disciples brought Jesus that donkey…
Prophecy was being fulfilled. Listen while I read Zechariah 9:9. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zachariah had seen the vision of Jesus entering the city. But what he saw was not a kingly Messiah mounted on a white horse with an army behind him. That will come true when Christ returns in all his glory at his second coming. But for his first “triumphal” entry into the city he would come riding on a young donkey that no one had ever rode on before. And by the way, that is pretty much a miracle because donkeys are not well known as gentle riders. They are stubborn, recalcitrant critters that require a lot of breaking and training to serve as a riding animal. However, when this unbroken colt was brought to Jesus he was able to sit on it and ride it into the city!
Jesus came into the city through the Tyropoeon Valley, also known as the Valley of the Cheesemakers, it was not a very classy neighborhood. In that poor area lived the highest concentration of the followers of Jesus. Even though there were people from all classes, and all walks of life, in Jesus’ entourage the majority of the people who followed him were of the lower-class. Later, Paul would write to the Corinthians and say that “not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26b-29)
It was in that working-class neighborhood that day that Jesus would be surrounded by…
The curious crowds. Turn with me back to John 12:17-18. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.
Jesus’ popularity had increased rapidly when he called Lazarus out of the tomb. Ever since that day the rumors had spread all across to the area. There was no news media, no TV, no radio, only word-of-mouth but it was spread rapidly so that the curious crowds gathered. Those crowds “rolled out the red carpet”, so to speak, by spreading branches on the ground and covering them with their cloaks.
They were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The Pharisees and the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” His answer was very simple. “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” This added to the intention of the Pharisees to condemn him to death. He had claimed so much honor from the curious crowds that he now was raising the ire of…
The furious enemies. Let’s read on John 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
Among those who had been at the tomb of Lazarus were spies of the Pharisees. After they reported on Lazarus’ resurrection the council, at least those who opposed Jesus, gathered to determine what they could do about Jesus. It wasn’t just a matter of jealousy. It was a matter of political expediency. Many of these leaders of the Jews genuinely believed that these gathering crowds would eventually lead to a rebellion against the Romans and the destruction of the Jewish nation. Caiaphas, the high priest that year, had said that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish. John told us that he did not say this on his own accord but as high priest he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation. The Pharisees did not realize that they were fulfilling prophecy. (John 11:50-53)
Along with the curious crowds; mixed in with the furious enemies were…
The sincere seekers. Let’s read on in John 12:20-22. Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
I suppose the Greeks that had come to worship came to Philip because he had a Greek name and may himself have been a Greek, who had converted to Judaism. They made a request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” That request has been on the lips of many sincere seekers down throughout the history of the Christian church. We may think that they want to see beautiful buildings, magnificent choirs and eloquent speakers. What they are really looking for is JESUS. They do not want to see us they want to see Jesus. It seems that Philip did not quite know what to do with the request. So he went to Andrew. I believe he went to Andrew, rather than Peter, because Andrew would be more open to these Greeks. We know from other instances in Peter’s life that he was pretty prejudiced with regard to anyone not born a Jew. So Philip went to Andrew and I suppose might have simply asked what should he do. Andrew knew immediately what to do! They went to see Jesus.
I think it’s interesting that while Jesus was still alive Gentiles were seeking him. I realize that these Gentiles were proselytes, having converted to Judaism, but they were Gentiles nonetheless. This experience would have supported the future events leading to the church moving out into the world away from the synagogue.
In the early years of the church it appears that everyone in its membership were Jews, either born or converted. When the church was scattered because of persecution the gospel went out, first to the Samaritans, then to an Ethiopian eunuch, then on to a Roman centurion and his cohort, and finally, through Paul and those who traveled with him, the gospel went to the Gentiles of the world.
Apparently the Greeks asking to see Jesus confirmed for him that…
The hour had come. Let’s read on in John 12:23-26. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
I’ve always been a little curious about the fact that Jesus did not call the Greeks to himself. Instead he immediately said that “the hour” had come. And he described “the hour” is being the time for him to be glorified. Now the word that is translated “glorified” has several meanings. Every meaning for it is positive and uplifting. This word can mean, among other things, “to honor” or “make glorious” or “clothe with splendor". From the human viewpoint, Jesus was not about to be glorified.
Jesus was about to be arrested, chained, beaten, then dragged through the streets. He was going to be mocked and abused. Finally he was going to have a crown of thorns pressed down his head and be taken to a place of execution where he would be nailed to the cross. “Glorified”? It stretches my imagination to fit all that was about to happen to him into that word.
But he goes on and emphasizes what is about to happen not that it would be abuse but that it would be “a grain of wheat” dying! As long as the grain of wheat is alive it is alone. A grain of wheat can live for centuries — alone! And then after hundreds of years it can be placed in the ground, watered and kept warm and it produces fruit. In fact, that’s what that grain of wheat is intended for – to produce much fruit! Jesus saw the glory of the Father being poured out on him to produce much fruit because he was willing to fall to the ground and die. A grain of wheat is designed to produce many more grains of wheat. Jesus, in facing his death, was going to produce more replicas of himself. In fact, the word “Christian” means “Christlike” or “little Christ”. It was first used at Antioch of Syria as a derogatory term. Very soon those who followed Christ gladly embraced the name “Christian”!
Jesus knew that he was going to die for the sins of the world. I do not know how much information about his coming trial was clear to him but I do know he had told his disciples, at least three times, that he would be arrested in Jerusalem and turned over to the authorities and die! Later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours, be done”. (Luke 22:42) I do not believe he was shunning the punishment that he was about to receive. I believe he was shrinking away from becoming sin for us. The Bible tells us that Jesus had no sin of his own but in order to give us eternal life he became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) He had never been filthy with sin until he came to the garden of Gethsemane. Beginning there, he took our sin into his own body and paid the penalty called for in the law. The wages of sin is death and eternal separation from God in hell. Jesus did not go to hell but he did die for us so that we could live for him. He understood that he would have to fall into the earth and die. He also emphasized that those who followed him would also face death. In facing death his followers would be honored by the Father.
Throughout history, beginning with the first disciples, a great many have laid down their lives for Christ! Out of the original disciples only the apostle John, so far as we know, died of old age. All the others were martyred in one way or another. The early church leader, Tertullian, is said to have pointed out that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The Muslim world is going to now see how true this is. There has never been a time in history when God does not honor the death of his saints by raising up more to take their place. The Islamic state will see a multiplication of Christians after the first reduction caused by their cruelty. In fact, it should be the common experience of Christians to give their life for their faith. Jesus had said that his disciples would be like him. (John 15:20) Paul had expressed a desire to be like him in his death so that he could be like him in the resurrection. (Philippians 3:10-11) Throughout history millions have been called upon to give their lives to honor Christ. During World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die!” In the last days of the German Reich Bonhoeffer paid the price with his own blood. Time doesn’t allow any detailed list of those who have given their life for the faith. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the world is not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:38)
Jesus continues his statement leading us to see…
The witness of the Father. Let’s continue to read in John 12:27-32. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
When Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to be taken and killed they either did not respond at all or they responded with a rebuke. Peter had said that it would never happen to Jesus. At that point Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
That day during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem Jesus knew what he faced. Rhetorically he asked, “And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” He knew and understood that what he was about to face was what he came into the world to do. So instead of asking the Father to protect him he asked the Father to glorify himself! The very thing that the Father always intended to do — GLORIFY HIMSELF! In fact, only the Father has an innate right to glorify himself. The psalmist tells us that everything tells the glory of God. (Psalm 19) In the book of Revelation the song of heavenly worship connects God’s creation of all things with the fact that he is worthy to receive glory from them! (Revelation 4:11)
When Jesus asked the Father to glorify his name he understood that the Father would be glorified by his death. In response to Jesus’ words the Father spoke, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Jesus then went on to say that he would be “lifted up” and then he would draw all people to himself. John tells us that he said this to show what kind of death he would die. He would be hung on a cross after being beaten almost to death. Jesus had said that the gospel would be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end would come. (Matthew 24:14) The proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom is a part of glorifying God. It is an amazing thing that we can be a part of bringing glory to the Father. Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the cross to draw all people to himself. In his triumphal entry into the city the process was begun that would end in his death and our salvation.
A side issue that may very well be more important than we realize is the fact that with Jesus crucifixion the ruler of this world would be cast out. The cross of Christ and the empty grave was a defeat to Satan. Later Paul would write to the Corinthians telling them that Satan and his minions would not have crucified the Lord of glory if they understood the power of the cross and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 2:8)
It is difficult to imagine what might have been going on in the minds of all the people that were there that day. The curious ones probably just wanted to see another miracle. The furious ones wanted him to be put to death and all of this nonsense to be ended. The sincere seekers wanted to see Jesus — and they still do! I praise God that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Since we have all sinned as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve we face eternal separation from God the Father in hell. However, Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. That will only happen if we repent of our sin and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord! Have you received Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Today can be the day of salvation for you.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.